Perch fillets air freighted to Switzerland

by Thomas Jensen

Mr Veltmann, Hunt-Fish CEO, does his best to accommodate customer’s requests and specifications.

The Hunt-Fish group has a track record selling perch fillets to buyers in the Swiss retail sector. At the end of last year the company together with perch fishermen invested in a processing facility to produce fresh perch fillets thereby removing two links in the value chain.

The Estonian fishing sector comprises several different segments, high seas, Baltic sea, coastal fishing, and inland fishing. In terms of tonnage the Baltic Sea is the most important fishing area for Estonian fisherman, but there are significant commercial fisheries in coastal and inland waters too. In the coastal fishery herring, perch, smelt and flounder are among the most commercially significant species. In inland waters catches of perch, pike, roach and eel support the fishery. One of the most interesting species from a commercial point of view both in the coastal and the inland fishery is the European perch (Perca fluviatilis). This fish is highly sought after on markets in Switzerland and France.

Perch from Lake Peipsi, and the Baltic Sea

In Estonia the main single source of perch is the large freshwater Lake Peipsi. Catches of perch went from 800 tonnes in 2009 to 783 tonnes in 2014. Catches in coastal waters of the Baltic Sea amount to about 900 tonnes. Perch is a lucrative fish because of the demand from Swiss supermarkets and several Estonian companies both big and small are processing the fish into fillets and exporting them fresh and frozen. One of the companies involved in this business is Hunt-Fish, which was established recently by Allan Veltmann. The company’s processing facility was commissioned in 2014 and here, in addition to perch, Mr Veltmann processes pikeperch and pike. The processing facility is very new, but Mr Veltmann has been in the fish trading business for several years, buying fish from processors, controlling the quality and size specifications, and selling them. This experience contributed to the decision to invest in a processing facility. Here the filleting is all done by hand to maximise the yield and the factory complies with the strictest quality standards. This is one of the factors that has enabled the company to export to the demanding Swiss market, another is the quality of the raw material which the company buys only from equally quality conscious suppliers, and finally, as Mr Veltmann says, is the service that the company provides. We always respond to the customer’s requirements with regard to quality and size, says Mr Veltmann, and judging by the demand it seems they are satisfied with me.

Fishers are partners in processing factory

Hunt-Fish is now looking at expanding the product range so that the company can offer a wider variety of items in different kinds of packaging, different sizes and under different brands. With a brand new factory I think there are a number of possibilities, says Allan Veltmann, and I also see that there is a lot of volatility in the business, markets are changing, products are evolving, people are moving and therefore one needs to be driving these changes rather than just responding to them. Mr Veltmann’s business model is unusual in the sense that the fishermen are partners in the processing plant and supply some of the fish that is processed there. Raw material also has to be obtained from other suppliers to keep up with demand. Production amounts to a tonne of fillets a day, if the weather conditions are favourable. Being a wild product, the supply of fresh fillets is dependent on the ability of the fishermen to go out and fish, and if the weather is inclement this may not be possible. Having the fishermen as partners gives me greater credibility in negotiations with potential customers, says Mr Veltmann, as the fishers have a vested interest in keeping the factory supplied with the highest quality raw material.

New packaging, product formats being developed

The fillets from Hunt-Fish are usually sent by road to Switzerland, a journey that takes 3 days. Within a maximum of four days after the fish has been processed it is on display at the fish counter in a supermarket. The fillets are packed under ice in 5 kg or 3 kg boxes and are despatched every Monday and by Wednesday it is in Basel, says Mr Veltmann, and the fillets have a total shelf life of 10 days. In the Easter period when demand for perch fillets is particularly strong the company even flies the fish to Switzerland. In this case the fish is processed during the day, air freighted off in the evening and by the next morning the fish is on display. Today most of the company’s fish comes from the Baltic Sea, where the stock situation is stable, but increasingly Hunt-Fish customers are asking for certification of the stock to Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standards to ensure that the product is from a sustainable fishery. Mr Veltmann is naturally trying to accommodate this request as well, but is aware that it will be a process that will have to be initiated with the backing of all the stakeholders, which is going to take time and effort. In the meanwhile Hunt-Fish has ambitious plans to start producing in MA packaged retail packs and to explore the possibility of making ready products. But smoking the fish, for example, will call for significant investments in machinery and will be a major step forward from the chilled fillets that the industry has been delivering for the last 20 years.

Hunt-Fish also has another business supplying game, moose, wild boar, and deer that is hunted in the Estonian forests. This however contributes only about a third of the company’s turnover, a figure that Mr Veltmann would like to increase, but for the moment he is putting most of his efforts into building up the fish side of the business.

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